Los Angeles (AFP) – The Winnipeg Jets will host the expansion Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday in game one of a Western Conference final that nobody would have predicted at the start of the season.
Not even in existence a year ago, the inaugural Golden Knights are already the most successful first-year franchise in the history of professional sports.
Even by their owner’s pre-season optimistic estimation, the Golden Knights are way ahead of schedule.
People thought business tycoon Bill Foley was either joking or looking through rose-colored glasses when he told reporters in September that they would be National Hockey League champions by their sixth season.
“Playoffs in three, make a run for the Stanley Cup in five, and win the Stanley Cup in six,” part-owner Foley said back then at the opening of the Knights’ new practice facility.
“I stand by my words. My people believe it too.”
And everyone else does now.
The Golden Knights are coming off a week’s rest after ousting the San Jose Sharks in six games.
Just how far they go will depend largely on the play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh.
Fleury likes that his team has exceeded the expectations of everybody, including his can-do boss.
“It was maybe a little bit of a shock, but I’m proud of our team, our organization, the way they did things here,” he said. “I’m proud to be where we are right now.”
Coach Gerard Gallant said they deserve to be there.
“We’re a good team, we play hard and we played well all season long,” he said. “The two teams we played were very good hockey teams and we were very evenly matched with those teams,” he said, referring to his playoff opponents.
Jets coach Paul Maurice was justifiably happy after Winnipeg knocked out the Presidents’ Trophy winners Nashville in the league quarter-finals.
“The telling stat for me in this series is we played four games in (Nashville) and never lost in regulation (time). Against the best team in the league,” he said. “It’s impressive.”